What’s happened to David Moyes?

Remember when David Moyes was cool? When he was tipped to be the ‘next big thing’ in football management?

If you’re new to the Premier League, you could be forgiven for scoffing at any suggestion that Moyes once inspired optimism and even success.

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Young, wild and free – Moyes in his heady hey-day at Everton. Image credit: Jason Gulledge (via Flickr)

But here’s a stat for the doubters. He has been awarded the third most ‘Manager of the Month’ awards in the Premier League’s history, after Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger. Unbelievable, I know.

Now, in the apocalyptic landscape of 2017, David Moyes is just another victim of our changing world order. He has become a miserable, browbeaten pessimist. From the start of this season, he has told fans that things ‘can’t dramatically change’ and they should expect another relegation catfight.

And to confound his perpetual misery, his recent comments to a BBC reporter paint him in a rather bad light. It may just be the manifestation of the massive pressure he is under, but you can’t help thinking he should – as a Premier League manager – handle it better.

Can Moyes perform an Easter miracle to resurrect the Black Cats’ season?

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Arsene Wenger can do nothing right

Things change when you start to lose. It’s like the ground gives way beneath you and you can do nothing to reverse the slide. And for a football manager, decisions you make always seem to be wrong.

I’ve always been a great Arsene Wenger admirer. And I still am. I acknowledge that now might be a good time for him to move on, but it must be his own decision. And it must be when the board are ready for him to leave, with a suitable successor in place (and ‘suitable successor’ absolutely does not include Diego Simeone – a good manager, but it’d be like asking Stephen Hawking to write a poetry collection: Wenger and Simeone come from two very different schools of thought).

In the meantime, he is still there. And his achievements of the last 20 years still stand. But now, because it’s the ‘in thing’, he is criticised for any and every decision.

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We can’t attack Wenger’s legacy because his side have had a rare slump. Image credit: Ronnie Macdonald (Flickr)

As a case in point, I switched on the BBC Radio 5 Live commentary for Arsenal’s game against Manchester City today. Martin Keown was criticising Wenger’s decision to bring on Olivier Giroud, citing Alex Iwobi as a ‘more mobile’ option.

Now I agree with the point in principle – but I can say with relative confidence that he would not have made that criticism if they were coming off the back of a 10 match unbeaten run. Decisions like that can’t be right or wrong. Who’s to say that Giroud won’t come on and score a spectacular scorpion kick?

Criticism mounts up in the same way that defeats do. The longer the losing run, the greater the scrutiny and the easier it is to pick things out for criticism. Even things which, for anyone else, might be deemed a stroke of genius.

But just because something’s fashionable, doesn’t mean it’s right. Look at the mullet. That was fashionable. And whilst criticising Wenger is in vogue for pundits everywhere, I still think we should be wary of going overboard.

Amateur athletes in a professional age – where has the money gone?

On the day that UK Sport’s cuts to some sports funding comes into effect, you can’t help thinking that we find ourselves in a bizarre situation.

Sport is a money-making behemoth. You only need to go to a Premier League match or a major tennis tournament to understand the scale of the financial operation. There are so many people and so many businesses who choose to tie their interests up with professional sport.

So how are we in a position where badminton, wheelchair rugby, archery, fencing and weightlifting will all lose the UK Sport funding they rely on?

The athletes who will be hit are all professionals. Most of them are very successful professionals. Chris Langridge and Marcus Ellis won the men’s doubles bronze at the Rio Olympics, Britain’s first badminton medal in 12 years. They will have to fund themselves on tour, as badminton loses all its £5.7million UK Sport funding today.

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Have UK Sport cocked up? Image credit: Dee’Lite (Flickr).

Participation figures in badminton have been in steady decline since 2008. And if you look at the situation now, what reasons would there be to pick up a shuttlecock?

Even worse is the situation for wheelchair rugby. Their athletes performed valiantly in Rio, finishing fifth. And their thanks? The loss of £750,000 a year of vital UK Sport’s funding.

I was told by a source close to the top of the GB Wheelchair Rugby hierarchy that the GB team could be disbanded within the year if funds aren’t found sharp-ish. That is a shocking statement.

It goes without saying that the most visible sports are also the most monied. They perpetuate each other. So it’s easy to forget that, for the vast majority of professional athletes, it’s often a case of scraping by.

I can’t help thinking that it’d be nice to redistribute certain players’ Premier League wages…

Nick Kygrios is a victim of the media treadmill

The Aussie youngster has had a rough time of it. He has the exclusive title of being tennis’ one and only ‘bad boy’.

And some of the incidents he’s been involved with have been regrettable. Sledging Stan Wawrinka by claiming that countryman Thanasi Kokkanakis ‘slept with [his] girlfriend’ was up there. As was the behaviour – described as a ‘lack of best efforts’ – which resulted in a $16,500 fine from the Shanghai Masters.

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Tennis’ only bad boy spices things up. Image credit: Carine06.

But to claim that he’s already a wasted talent or a ‘disgrace’ to tennis (as he has been branded in much of the mainstream media) is a stretch.

I believe he is another victim of the need for news, the need to make something out of nothing.

Athletes find themselves in an unenviable position, where they must be entertaining, whilst being some kind of saint-like role model, before they’ve even stepped out onto the field of play.

Not many people could deny that Kyrgios is entertaining. So would they prefer him to blend into the bland obscurity of the vast majority of media savvy tennis stars? No. Because then they’d have nothing to write about.

But that’s not going to stop them feigning moral outrage at his antics.

Heroes and Villains

This week’s World Championships reminded me of Sean Connery tied to the table in Goldfinger. The film’s charismatic villain swaggering before a hopeless Bond, detailing his plans for world domination before he finally manages to dispose of the pesky secret agent. Goldfinger takes his time, chats cordially to Bond and then leaves our sweetheart to be eaten up by the laser beam.

But then, with the end in sight, there’s a stumble.

And just as Goldfinger was thwarted by Bond with just seconds remaining, so Usain Bolt steps up to deliver on the biggest stage, as we always knew he would. He snatched victory from underneath Justin Gatlin’s running spikes.

Gatlin seems to have embraced his role as villain just as readily as Bolt has hero, with his agent claiming after the 100m final that ‘only Gatlin beat Gatlin’.

But that disregards the greatest sprinter ever, the six-time Olympic Gold Medal winner, and the hero of our sport: Usain Bolt. Gatlin was beaten by the sustained supremacy of Bolt over the last seven years. As Michael Johnson has since said, Justin Gatlin needs to show signs of contrition before he can be considered as anything other than a villain, a foil for the heroes of the sport to thrash it out against.

Meanwhile, Andy Murray has been reassigned the role of Daniel Craig’s Bond; a gritty and more reluctant hero. He’s forced into the position of tennis’s ‘saviour’ as he faces Nick Kyrgios in the first round of the US Open.

Just as Hollywood constructs these diametric oppositions between good and evil, so it is not just a coincidence that many of sports biggest rivalries are characterised in such black and white terms.

Sean Connery wasn't always keen on being the hero, just as Bolt has expressed reservations about his portrayal in the media.

Sean Connery wasn’t always keen on being the hero, just as Bolt has expressed reservations about his portrayal in the media.

Goldfinger wasn’t saving the world, but he was the focal point of the film. Kyrgios and Gatlin are never going to struggle to draw a crowd, they are the ones you don’t want to miss. As long as the good guy wins, it’s ok to have a couple of baddies isn’t it?

Why Gerrard leaving is good for Liverpool

Steven Gerrard has been the first name on the Liverpool team sheet for the past decade. He’s dominated the captaincy and the central midfield role. It’s going to be a huge adjustment, but perhaps it is a good thing that Brendan Rodgers has abandoned sentimentality, and agreed to let Gerrard go stateside.

He will inevitably be missed. He is Liverpool’s top goalscorer in all competitions this season (although that isn’t his greatest achievement, considering the fact that Sturridge has been injured for most of the season).

More important than his goals, is his presence as a leader. Gerard Houllier – appointing him captain in 2003 – cited his natural ‘leadership qualities’ as the reason for the move, an unusual one considering Gerrard’s relative youth at the time.

He replaced Sami Hyypia, another Liverpool legend and a very successful captain. Hyypia won six trophies during his tenure, as has Gerrard thus far. Houllier took a lot of flak for his decision at the time, though in hindsight it was an excellent move – is there any hope of an easy ride for Brendan Rodgers?

Most likely, no. It is terrible PR; to lose a lifelong Liverpool lad, a man who has garnered adoration from fans across the world. And of course a man who still has the capability to carry his side to victory, à la AFC Wimbledon last week.

But I’m tempted to believe that Rodgers may well be proven right in this instance. Liverpool have to let go of their talisman, and the sooner someone else is allowed to step up the better. Jordan Henderson will have to raise his game. Emre Can and Lucas might also be able to step up to the plate. Liverpool will have to endure a period of transition, but one that is inevitable anyway.

It’s not going to be much fun for Rodgers, but Gerrard’s move is good for Liverpool. He will be missed in the Premier League, but it’ll be thrilling to see who fills his considerable shoes.

The Big Four – architects of their own downfall?

The Big Four are not as dominant as they once were. For the first time since 1998, eight different men and women have won the respective Grand Slam singles titles. They muscled their way to the top – quite literally – and have shown little signs of relinquishing their dominance before this year.

So what’s gone wrong? Two have spent most of the injured or in surgery. The other is 33-years old and a father of four. And Djokovic, despite his supreme form at Wimbledon, has looked underwhelming ever since.

But there’s more to it than meets the eye. Roger Federer’s first Wimbledon win in 2003 marked a changing of the guard. From the wam-bam-thankyou-man of Sampras and Ivanisevic, to the more physical game brought about with slower courts and better rackets.

And of course 2005 marked Rafael Nadal’s explosion onto the Grand Slam scene. On clay at least, Federer had to work hard to compete over the course of brutally long matches. Those three or four years of dominance have taken their toll on a 28 year old Nadal. He set the bar and is now struggling to reach it again.

Murray and Djokovic were next; both struggled with fitness in the early stage of their careers and embarked on intensive strength and conditioning regimes. Murray is now once again back on the road to recovery after a punishing season.

As each one has battled for supremacy, it is only natural that they go one step further than their predecessors. But in bringing about the new, increasingly physical, game they have paved the way for their own downfall. As they get older and the challengers get younger, it is only going to get harder for them to keep up.

British Tennis still needs more drive

We’re lucky to have new facilities – now we need the drive to get people playing on them

Over 17 million people watched Andy Murray break the 77 year Wimbledon deadlock in 2013. The BBC subsequently provided its most expansive coverage to date in 2014, with over 150 hours of TV time dedicated to the Championships.

And yet this gives the Lawn Tennis Association even more reason to be scratching their heads. Why is it that only 406,000 of those that watched Murray romp to victory pick up a racket and play tennis at least once a week?

Perhaps more importantly, why is this figure in decline?

Interest in the sport has hit a peak and we need to act fast to harness the power of youngsters’ imaginations. We have the interest; we now need to facilitate potential player’s desires because they won’t wait around. Football, cricket, golf, even cycling are providing a greater impetus for participation.

Although far from an expert, I did manage to establish a club and coaching programme on public courts in 2010. The support of the local authority and public figures was very encouraging. The only thing that was lacking was a cohesive regional plan.

Every tennis club, school, sports facility could benefit from collaboration. We – as a small coaching group – could work with the school to provide tennis as an alternative to the traditional football and cricket combination which still dominates most PE teacher’s curriculums.

From there, we could feed into the local tennis centre, with a larger coaching infrastructure and – if you’re lucky – indoor courts. We’ve had several children go onto play at the local centre, but it was on their own initiative.

Owen Gibson wrote for The Guardian that ‘it won’t be changing one thing that transforms tennis in this country but marginal gains across a multitude of areas’. This seems to me to hit the nail on the head.

Pushing players in a consistent direction, making coaching accessible with lower prices and making tennis ‘ordinary’ is all part of the solution. We need to give our juniors tennis on a plate for them to choose us over football.

Is Federer finished?

Roger Federer wins Wimbledon, 2009 - image credit, Just Jared

Roger Federer wins Wimbledon, 2009 – Image credit, Just Jared

Reacting in last Sunday's final to pegging Djokovic level - Image credit, Billie Weiss

Reacting in last Sunday’s final to pegging Djokovic level – Image credit, Billie Weiss

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s not the crushing disappointment of last Sunday’s final. Nor is it the aging body of the 33 year old seven-time Wimbledon champion. It’s what he’s lost in his two year Grand Slam drought.

His previous invincibility, that cool demeanour with which he took both triumph and adversity has all but evaporated. Now, he is a mere mortal.

As a case in point, Federer’s leap and fist-pump into the air after breaking Djokovic’s serve in the fourth set was almost identical to that which followed his 2009 Wimbledon victory over Andy Roddick.

Roger Federer – one of the greatest tennis players the world has ever seen and a famously cool competitor – was celebrating winning just one game.

That is not to diminish the power of the Djokovic effect. He piled on the pressure; every game was a tightly fought battle. But that’s all the more reason for Roger to keep calm and carry on as normal. After all, he’s the king of that particular court.

Roger Federer, for perhaps the first time in his career, didn’t look like winning was his default setting. He confirmed his role as underdog by celebrating pegging level with a fist-pump; he looked almost appreciative for every point he remained in the contest.

And this is no fault of the mighty Fed. It is surely a sub-conscious reaction. He is the underdog. He has a lot less to lose than he used to. He said himself after the match that ‘the disappointment of the match itself went pretty quickly’.

Compare that reaction to the tears he shed five years ago after losing the Australian Open final.

His over-egged celebration was symbolic of an entirely new Federer mind-set. Gratitude. He is appreciative of every game he remains competitive. For him to return to winning ways, Federer must rediscover some of the hunger which propelled him to seven Wimbledon victories.

It is heart-warming to see such a genuine love for the game, but if our hero is to go out with the proverbial bang, he must stop being so bloomin’ gracious.